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30-year transport plan for the North published

Words: Laura Edgar
Manchester Picadilly station / Shutterstock_745400638

Transport for the North (TfN) has published its 30-year programme of transport infrastructure investment, which could deliver a £100 billion economic boost for the north of England.

It includes plans to establish a Northern Powerhouse Rail network, stating that this can deliver the integrated Northern labour markets that are central to achieving economic transformation.

Northern Powerhouse Rail would deliver faster and more frequent rail journeys, according to the plan, linking the North’s six main cities with each other as well as Manchester Airport. TfN, Northern partners and the Department for Transport (DfT) have been developing the network, which could be integrated with HS2.

The “emerging vision” for a Northern Powerhouse Rail network includes:

  • A new line between Liverpool and the HS2 Manchester Spur via Warrington.
  • A new TransPennine rail line that connects Manchester and Leeds via Bradford.
  • Leeds to Sheffield delivered through HS2 Phase 2B and upgrading the route from Sheffield.

Key milestones in the delivery of the network include completion of the roll-out of new rolling stock and services for the current TransPennine Express and Northern franchises by 2022, and opening HS2 Phase 2B to Manchester and eastern legs to Sheffield, Leeds and beyond by 2033.

A strategic outline business case for the network is expected to be completed by the end of 2018.

Seven ‘corridors’ of opportunity are identified in the plan. They aim to make it easier for people and goods to travel across the region, improving access to jobs and improving the movement of freight. The ‘Southern Pennines’ corridor identifies proposed road and rail improvements from the Port of Liverpool to the Humber Ports, via Cheshire, Greater Manchester and Sheffield City Region, as well as strengthening cross-border movements into the East Midlands.

The programme also features smart ticketing. The Integrated and Smart Travel programme will build on existing systems already in place in parts of the north of England – smartcard and contactless bank card, for example.  

The cost of the plan is estimated to equate to less than £150 per Northern citizen a year, or between £2 billion and £2.3 billion a year. This figure includes spending that would already be expected as part of ongoing strategic transport investment in the North, according to TfN.

John Cridland, Transport for the North chairman, said: “For the first time, civic and business leaders and transport operators are speaking with one voice on transport to make sure the North fulfils its potential. Our plan proposes a revolutionary investment programme that will make it possible to travel to high-quality jobs. This is an ambitious programme that will improve our roads and railways, and will also drive a sea change in skills development in the North and ensuring we meet that historic gap in investment.”

In November last year, the DfT announced that TfN would become a sub-national statutory body. The plan will become a statutory body the move is completed in April 2018. But, unlike Transport for London, it will not have the ability to generate its own income.

The government has previously said that making TfN a statutory body means it must formally consider any recommendations made.  

After leaving the launch midway through, former deputy prime minister John Prescott told the BBC that it was promised TfN would have statutory powers but “now we know, and it's been confirmed by government, it will have no powers”.

“It can talk to the Treasury along with the strategic bodies, but it can't make a decision and it doesn't get any money. It's a bloody fraud.”

The programme itself states that a “significant part of the resources required to deliver TfN’s investment programme will need to come from central government”. The rest could come from local stakeholders and businesses that will benefit from the programme.

A public consultation on the plan will run until 17 April. A final version is expected to be presented to the government later this year.

James Harris, policy and networks manager, told The Planner: “The launch of this draft Strategic Transport Plan marks a major step towards realising the vision set out in our Blueprint for a Great North Plan, by making a clear case for additional transport investment to unlock transformative growth across the north. TfN have played a valuable role in developing a consensus  around regional transport priorities,  and showing how individual projects can deliver the economic, social and environmental objectives of the ‘strategic corridors’ set out in the plan. With different scenarios for urban growth and technological change also considered, this should encourage a move away from project appraisal on a case-by-case basis, and help local authorities to better align plans for homes and jobs with improvements to inter-urban connectivity.”

Dan Mitchell, partner at Barton Willmore’s Manchester office, said that when it comes to rebalancing the economy and boosting regional growth, the “default response” is to focus on infrastructure and investment to improve connections between London and the rest of the country.

“But via Transport for the North we’re seeing the recognition that we need to start closer to home. To really unleash the economic might of the Northern Powerhouse, the existing economic centres and hubs across the North need to be better connected. It’s vital that we join the dots more effectively – so that people can live, work, and do business more easily and more interchangeably across these neighbouring markets. East-West links are just as important as North-South and by taking this kind of collaborative approach, the 19 constituent parties will deliver huge complementary benefits across the whole of the north of England.”

He said the programme is a “strong commitment and show of political will”, but “the proof will be in the pudding, and in how – and how quickly – these proposals progress”.

The RTPI will be responding to the consultation on the draft plan, and welcomes the views of its members. To contribute, please email your comments to: [email protected]

The consultation can be found on the TfN website.

Image credit / Shutterstock